In the spirit of the approaching Yom HaDin, when life and death hang in the balance, I would like to share my gleanings from last week's readings on the Iranian nuclear threat and the options before Israel. At least one major rosh yeshiva told me that he found the first article discussed below every bit as frightening as I did.
John Bosma, who has almost half a century of background in strategic arms control, published "Thinking the Unthinkable: An Israel-Iran Nuclear War" in The American Thinker on August 23. He begins: "If there ever were an unassailable case for a small, frighteningly vulnerable nation to pre-emptively use nuclear weapons to shock, economically paralyze and decapitate an enemy sworn to its destruction, Israel has arrived at that circumstance."
On the one hand, Israel faces a regime whose elite's ideology is "inherently preferential towards nukes and direct population targeting as a means of implementing Shiite messianism and end-times extremism." Or as the great Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis has put it, nuclear apocalypse may be an incentive for the mullahs. Senior Iranian officials have tied nuclear war to the appearance of the 12th Imam or Mahdi.
And just last week, the foreign policy advisor to the speaker of the Iranian parliament said, "Israel should be annihilated . . . is our ultimate slogan." The Iranian government recently released a video game allowing players to target various Israeli cities with ballistic missiles.
One the other hand, America, under President Obama, has remained silent in the face of Iran's threats to destroy Israel. "Every U.S. government prior to President Obama would have foresworn nuclear talks with such a psychopathic regime or walked out in rage upon such utterances," writes Bosma. That the Americans did not shows that the United States no longer recognizes "a civilizational moral duty to protect [Israel] from the most explicit threats imaginable."
But the American betrayals have been more direct as well. They include Obama's reported threat in 2014 to shoot down Israeli planes en route to attacking Iran, his disclosure of Israel's nuclear secrets and Central Asian strike-force recovery bases, and culminate in the Vienna deal's undertaking to protect Iran's enrichment facilities from terrorism and cyberwarfare – i.e., from Israel.
Pushing Israel to act now, writes Bosma, is the imminent delivery to Iran of Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missiles, the world's best. The Vienna deal leaves Iran the right to dramatically upgrade its ballistic missiles program and its nuclear infrastructure, even if waits until the deal's expiration to actually produce a bomb. So waiting will only make the Iranians more formidable.
Bosma then list three factors that in his view impel Israel to use tactical nuclear weapons if it does attack Iran. First, according to Bosma, Iranian engineers have perfected the world's toughest concrete, which might make even a shallow underground facility, like that in Natanz, impermeable to the best HTMs (hard-target munitions) in Israel's possession. And that would certainly be true for Fordow, which is beneath a mountain.
The second reason is that Israel would need to complete its operations nearly as soon as they began. A slow motion conventional aerial assault would almost certainly not be successful because Israel would be subjected to "brutal political and military blowback" by nearly the entire world, led by "an enraged American president."
And thirdly, part of that blowback would come in the form of a missile attack by Hezbollah, which possesses minimally 60,000 missiles, many of them fitted with precision guidance for which Israel's current air defenses are not designed. Israel could not afford to have most of its air force deployed over Iran and not available to counter a Hezbollah missile barrage.
There is a lot of other technical stuff about Electro-magnetic Pulse (EPMs) or High Power Microwaves (HPMs) that might be used to destroy Iran's nuclear science infrastructure. But it is unlikely that too many readers will find Bosma's conclusion soothing: "Nuclear pre-emption becomes attractive to a nation in extremis, where Israel is now."
ONE DAY AFTER THE APPEARANCE of Bosma's article, John Bolton published "Facing Reality on Iran" in National Review. Bolton was America's chief nuclear proliferation negotiator under President George W. Bush and a former ambassador to the UN, and is as well-versed on nuclear issues as any man alive. Though he does not mention Israel employing nuclear weapons, the choices he sees facing Israel (as a surrogate for all those nations that would prefer to ignore the threat) remain stark and unattractive.
He makes short work of the fantasy that sanctions might work their magic to stop Iran from going nuclear. It is impossible to travel back in time more than six years to a point where they might have convinced the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamein that he and his fellow mullahs could potentially face regime change as a consequence of a severe sanctions regime. In any event, the sanctions that were imposed were neither comprehensive enough nor rigorously enough enforced to bring Iran to heel. Gen. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, admits that as of the partial lifting of sanctions in 2013, they had neither succeeded in convincing Iran to slow its pursuit of nuclear weapons nor its support of terrorism. Khameini, he estimated, was willing to endure a level of privation equal to that Iran suffered during the Iraq-Iran War. The sanctions never came close to doing that. Far more comprehensive sanctions failed to move Saddam Hussein from Kuwait prior to the First Gulf War or to give up his WMD's (real or pretend) prior to the Second Gulf War.
The reality, then, is that Iran will have the bomb, probably sooner than later, unless someone bombs Iran. That such military action might be politically unpalatable to Western leaders, Bolton wisely observes, does not mean that we "can imagine an alternative reality into existence." Clearly that someone won't be the United States anytime in the near future. The advanced weapons being offered the Gulf states by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter are a surefire indication that the United States has adopted a containment strategy.
That leaves only Israel, then, in the role of that someone to bomb Iran. Israel cannot do the job nearly as well as the United States could have, Bolton admits, but it can do it well enough. He does not mention the Russian S-300s or any of the other difficulties pointed to by Bosma.
By acting, however, Israel will bear the brunt of Iran's wrath. Bolton's assessment is that Iran would not provoke the United States either by a direct attack or mining the Straits of Hormuz, and thereby risk losing most of it military and oil production and refining capacity. Rather it would unleash Hezbollah and Hamas missiles and rockets at Israel's civilian population, and force Israel to bring overwhelming force to bear to protect the civilian front.
The aftermath of an Israeli attack would be horrible, and entail increased risks to the West from Iranian sleeper terrorist cells as well. But whatever that increased risk, the dangers "would be far higher and permanent when Iran acquires deliverable nuclear weapons," in Bolton's estimation. The Vienna deal has already "struck a mortal wound to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but a fully nuclearized Middle East would be a global strategic catastrophe," he writes. That nuclear arms race is already underway as a consequence of the Saudi's fears of a nuclear Iran.
Whether the West or the United States would acknowledge the advantage of setting back the Iranian nuclear program, however, is highly doubtful, inasmuch as the Vienna deal could only have been concluded by studiously ignoring the magnitude of the Iranian threat.
The choices facing Israel are bitter and unpleasant ones, Bolton acknowledges. But they are the same ones that have been facing the West for fifteen years. Making those choices, however, is still preferable to a nuclear Iran.
I OFFER THESE REFLECTIONS first and foremost to provide some indication of the magnitude of the choices confronting Israel's leaders. Their decisions are only so weighty because the lives of each and every Jew in Israel could well depend on them.
If that does not create the requisite aimas hadin on Rosh Hashanah and propel us towards real teshuva, what will?